Building a strong Black community at Haas

Five members of the Black Business Student Association
The Black Business Student Association’s mission is to uplift and empower Black business students at Haas. Five of the seven board members are pictured. From left to right: Nicole Austin-Thomas, Mwita Wambura, Dalayna Jackson, Almaz Ali, and Allison Slaughter. Photo: Jim Block

For Dalayna Jackson, MBA 21 and co-president of the Black Business Student Association, hosting a crowded consumption function in the Haas courtyard during Black History Month was about more than dancing The Electric Slide and devouring homemade soul food.

For Jackson, last Friday was about creating a presence and assuring incoming and enrolled Black students that there’s a supportive and professional network to help them during their time at Haas.

“It’s important for us to be visible on campus for other Black students,” Jackson said. “We’re making sure that there is a space here for you and that you know about it.”

Mission to uplift, empower

A Kentucky native from Bowling Green, Jackson says she has always been a part of communities rooted in blackness, whether at her church or at social gatherings in her neighborhood.

So it’s no surprise that she’s helping to lead the BBSA, which has a mission to uplift and empower Black students on campus by building relationships with current and prospective students and alumni, connecting with Black graduate students at Berkeley and business schools in the Bay Area, and organizing social and professional networking events for its members.

Black Business Student Association visit museum.
BBSA members visit San Francisco’s de Young Museum for the Soul of a Nation exhibit.

During Black History Month, the BBSA will be hosting a variety of Bay Area events and outings, including a visit to San Francisco’s de Young Museum for the Soul of a Nation exhibit, a game night, a mixer with Stanford’s Black Business Student Association, and a luncheon for Black staff and faculty.

Part of Jackson’s mission is to continue to strengthen the Black community on campus. In the 2018 entering full-time MBA class, African Americans represented only two percent of the class, or six out of 291 students. This year, that number of incoming students tripled.

“I knew I wanted to be involved in BBSA because I wanted to help create a sense of community for my class and for those second-years who didn’t have that community,” Jackson said. “I want to make sure that moving forward, students always have a place where it feels like home.”

Building meaningful relationships

Nicole Austin-Thomas, MBA 21, said she, too, felt compelled to join BBSA to build a support network for current and future students and alumni. As BBSA vice president, not only is she helping organize retreats, study sessions, and mixers to foster connections among members, but she’s also benefiting from her efforts, too.

“I know there are 20 people on campus who I can reach out to for anything that I need and I’m willing to give my time and support to them as well,” she said. “BBSA allows me to have meaningful relationships that will carry beyond my time at Haas.”

While the first-year MBA class has many more African American students, and the school adopted a comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Action plan (DEI) in October 2018 that aims further increase representation, both Jackson and Austin-Thomas say there’s still work to do.

“I want students to know that there are people on campus who want to support you and want to see you succeed, but there’s no stasis,” Austin-Thomas said. “By coming here, you’ll be helping us build.”